Saturday, July 9, 2016

C&O Canal biking

I love living in southern Pennsylvania for many reasons. 

The top reason is that my favorite people in the world live here. But there are other things I like about living in this location such as easy access to so many great historical and recreational spot.

This summer we've enjoyed a number of rides on the C&O Canal towpath. The C&O Canal (stands for Chesapeake and Ohio) has been abandoned by canalers for nearly a century and is now a park open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.

Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal

Through the years we have hiked and biked on portions of the 180 mile trail. This year we bought The Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal which has enhanced our canal experience.

One of the nice things about the towpath is that there is so many access points. We are marking on a map the parts of the towpath that we have biked. Since the canal is nearly flat, it is perfect for children. But our progress is slow, especially since we park, ride a few miles, then ride back to the van so we are biking every mile twice.

But enjoyment, not completion, is our goal.

Dads who pull children are also glad for flat trails.

This little one has the easy ride but she didn't enjoy our first bike rides this summer and was quite vocal in her displeasure. Our last visit to the trail, she was the perfect traveler and made the experience more enjoyable for everyone.

Sometimes the trail is just too exhausting. Usually the ride home in the van is very quiet as even mom falls to sleep.

The towpath guide lists all the important (and not so important) historical and geological features. I have been reading the guide book to the family on our way to the access point so we know what to look for along the towpath.

The children are always on the lookout for a good place to stop for a picnic.

In May we biked the area around Great Falls for the first time. I was unprepared for the beauty. The Potomac River, which is usually visible from the towpath, is always lovely, but here at Great Falls it is outstanding.

On a recent Saturday we biked the section directly south of the Antietam Battlefield. We veered off the towpath to bike up to the top of the bluff (a serious climb) to Ferry Hill - an old plantation house that is now a visitor's center. We would have never known about Ferry Hill without the towpath guide and we thoroughly enjoyed the park volunteer who filled us in on the history of the area.

The children  loved the collection of dress-up clothes. They could pretend to be a Union commander, a canal mule driver, or a fashionable lady from the 1860's.

Besides the history, there were some amazing caves along this part of the canal. My boys want to come back - but next time bring their flash lights so they can do more exploring.

I love when one activity hits more than one goal. For us, biking the canal towpath has increased our knowledge of local history, given us great family memories, exercised our muscles, and allowed us to enjoy the beauty of God's world.

You can get your own copy of the Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal  at the visitor's centers along the towpath or at the Harper's Ferry website.

What activities do you enjoy with your family at the location where you live? Anyone want to join us on the towpath?


  1. That looks like a very nice time had by all. We have so many bicycle trails here, almost the top state in the country. There are over 75-80 rail to trail systems alone. I used to bicycle. I miss being able to go for rides, but it is risky if I fall and too hard on my joints. But my children all love to and often take bikes with them when camping and on vacation.

    We like to go to local festivals like the Cranberry Festival or Heidi and Wilhelm Tell festivals, bird counting days or any kind of heritage day. We did this growing up and have continued ever since and have probably been to just about every ethnic or historic festival or site in the state and some in the states around us. And when travelling round the US on family vacations we've done the same.

    We've been to Harper's Ferry. I have a CD of folk music I bought there.

  2. What a lovely place and it looks like the weather was kind to you too. Everbody in the pictures is smiling. It seems like the kind of day you wish that time stopped.

  3. We are wanting to take a camping trip with friends this summer. Our children all range from 1-9 years. This sounds like something that would be great! But are there any campgrounds you recommend? Or other local attractions that little people would like? Would the biking be suitable for 7 little people? We always went to pine creek, but wanted something different! :) any tips n thoughts would sure be appreciated!! Rosene Martin

    1. Rosene-
      We've never camped along the towpath but I know there is several campgrounds. There is also tenting sites right along the towpath at several spots. If you contact any of the visitor's centers along the towpath (there is at least five) they could get you more information. The towpath is wide and almost level - just a slight downhill grade if you are going west to east. I think it is perfect for little people. There is a lot of access points so you an choose how long of a trip to go.

      We love Pine Creek too. We went there two years ago and it is on our list of places to return to!

    2. Thanks, Gina!

  4. That's great that you all pushed through and kept trying even after the little one had an unhappy bike ride(s?)! I hope she continues to enjoy them now. : )

  5. Nice trip..and just look how those kids are growning!! Cherish these moments and hold on to the memories. Thanks for Sharing!

  6. Great things to do with family! Thanks for the info!

  7. This is just lovely! It's not easy to find an activity that the whole family enjoys and that also is wholesome and basically free :) This is inspiration for us to explore our local trails more. My kids do love to bike, but it seems like a pain to load up bikes to get to a trail.

  8. We've gone here many times! One of our favorites! Hope you and your family are doing well!! We are still planning on coming to visit your church and meet you and your family soon! This week we've spent some time in Lancaster, PA and have loved it! So peaceful! We've made a few Amish friends here through coming through the years (we come here quite often) and love visiting them too! Hope to talk to you soon! God Bless!

    1. Kandice-
      Looking forward to meeting you in person someday!

  9. This warms my heart. We too have come across interesting and fun places that no one else seema to know about. I'm sure you're building many happy memories on days like these!


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